Portland, ME – What a way for the Portland Pirates to end their five-game homestand.
On the back of a record-tying feat by defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who recorded five assists, the Pirates laid a walloping on the Worcester Sharks, 8-3, in front of 5,339 people at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Saturday night.
The Pirates, who received goals from eight different players, finished the homestand 4-1-0 and gained even a further foothold on second place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.
“It was a good run at home,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “(Worcester coach) Roy (Sommer) is dealing with a little bit of a short bench over there, but they have a heck of a compete level. I felt that if we kept with our tone of the game that good things would follow. We weren’t expecting five goals in the third, but certainly we’ll take it.”
With the game tied at 3-3, the Pirates exploded for five goals in the third period.
At 3:28, forward Corey Tropp took a behind the net pass from Gragnani, ripping shot under the crossbar past Sharks netminder Carter Hutton.
It was the first time in the game the Pirates had a lead in which they never looked back.
Mark Mancari, Max Legault, Paul Byron and Drew Schiestel added the other goals in the third period for the Pirates.
Portland finished the night 3-for-7 on the power play, which is a vast improvement over the last several weeks in which they have gone 5-for-33 in their previous nine games.
“(Power play) has been an issue for us,” said Dineen. “I hate being one of those coaches that did exactly what I did, which was put our top unit out there on the five-on-three.” Normally, you’re trying to spread the ice (time) around and respect the score. But, given how bad our power play has struggled, I felt we needed to work on our options.”
“It was nice to get some production on the power play.”
Pirates’ goaltender David Leggio, making his second straight start after last night’s 21-save performance, had his shutout snapped just 58 seconds into the opening period on TJ Trevelyan’s wraparound shot from the right side that crossed the goal line just inside the left post.
It appeared the Pirates tied the game at one goal apiece about three minutes later as Mark Mancari took a shot from the slot, ringing it off the crossbar. Despite the goal light coming on, David Banfield – one of two officials for the game – waved it off immediately.
The Pirates wouldn’t have a chance to argue the call until the next stoppage in play that proved to be a goal for Portland at the 6:36 mark of the first period.
“They didn’t even go and talk to the goal judge,” said Dineen. But, as far as the video showed it hits the crossbar and comes straight down, looks like it’s inside the net and then takes a bounce out so I’d like to have seen there was a good (discussion), but I also respect that the referee was in extremely good position to see it.”
Igor Gongalsky, in his first game back since missing seven games with a concussion, scored his first career AHL goal, grabbing a cross-ice feed from Gragnani, slamming the puck past Hutton.
Worcester regained the lead, 2-1, with a power play goal as Dan Silva picked up a loose puck in the left circle, snapping a shot over the right shoulder of Leggio at 16:52 of the period.
TJ Brennan, who moved back to the blueline with the return of Gongalsky to the lineup, brought the Pirates even at 2-2 with a power play goal of their own as he launched a slapshot from the right face-off circle, beating Hutton with 1:22 left in the first period.
Worcester and Portland traded special teams’ goals in the second period.
At 18:12, Steven Zalewski scored a power play goal on a redirect about shoulder-high from James Marcou’s slapper from the right point, giving Worcester a 3-2 lead.
The Pirates answered right back only 34 seconds later on a shorthanded goal by Derek Whitmore, skating on the left side of an odd-man rush with Brian Roloff, fired a wrister past the shortside of Hutton.
Leggio earned his 11th win of the season, stopping 21 of 24 shots on the night, while Hutton took the loss in only his ninth start of the year for the Shark, making 28 saves.
Pirates bussed out immediately after tonight’s game bound for Springfield, Mass. where they will take on the Falcons tomorrow afternoon at 2:00pm. The game was originally slated for 3:05pm, but pushed back because of the New England Patriots playoff contest against the New York Jets.
NOTES: Defenseman Dennis Persson missed tonight’s game due to illness… TJ Brennan played in his 100th career AHL game tonight… Mark Mancari with his assists moved to within one of reaching his 200th career assists in the AHL.